Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×20 “Pareto Principle” is one of those episodes that, quite frankly, is the embodiment of that “it just doesn’t make sense” Olivia Benson gif. It’s not a complete waste, and it does have its moments. But, on the other hand, a lot of those moments don’t completely fit together, to the point where some feel completely forced. And, if that at all sounds like a familiar complaint, that would be because that’s basically the one we’ve had about SVU several times this season.
Then, of course, there’s the ending, which…is certainly something. Nothing good. But something! And we’re just going to go ahead and get that out of the way. As in, we’re going to wash our hands of it before we even bother with discussing anything else. There’s zero point to it, other than to get viewers riled up. (And we all know how that usually goes.) Elliot Stabler has clearly made progress in his mourning, and while it’s not like that’s always an entirely linear, single-directional path, this is…just no.
There’s no logical explanation here. Maybe there would’ve been when El was still very wrapped up in his grief and guilt. You know, like, when he went off the deep end with the Wheatleys. Or when he went undercover for months — even ghosted
us Olivia, just as we were she was starting to trust him again —to try to escape dealing with his shit. But now? There are no good reasons to do this, and there’s no way to escape the plot point being anything but…just bad. Especially when she’s just there as a cliffhanger, with no lines, mostly out of the blue. So, no. Goodbye. Good riddance.
We’re past guilt over moving on with Olivia; if anyone’s holding that back, it’s her. Mama forgetting…resulted in Elliot comforting her, not the other way around. And any kind of “surprise! Not dead” buffoonery is just that — buffoonery. So, whatever. Kathy Stabler, may her memory not be a blessing, has no place here. Not where this series’ arc is, or at least should be. She was always a plot device, which was bad enough back in the day, but this is…how you say…giant yikes.
But anyway. There’s (theoretically) more to Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×20 than…that. So. Let’s try to figure the rest out, shall we?
Elliot Stabler: Mr. Contradiction
Elliot Stabler is simultaneously an excellent detective and the stupidest man on the planet. To love him is also also to hate him, and what we see of him in Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×20 is no different. This is, again, even after washing our hands of the end of the episode. (In water so hot, with soap so abrasive, the skin starts to come right off the hands.)
When Detective Stabler is in interrogation with Lloyd, he is, in a word, brilliant. The suspect is a terrible liar, completely pathetic, and Stabler knows it. But it’s like he has fun breaking him down. It’s a surgical precision that very few others are capable of, and he never once has to even really reach for the big, scary rage monster inside himself to get the job done. Because that’s not who, or what, he is. Or, rather, it’s never been his sole trait.
Honestly, it’s probably all down to Christopher Meloni and the way he fully commits to every snarky line, every “cat with the canary” grin…and — yes — staying in that kind of shape.
Even with the acting aside, though, the characterization remains truly something else. He’s so very intelligent, methodical in how he conducts himself on the job — even knows by the end of the episode that there’s some kind of larger story at play. But, at the same time, he’s also been known to be unpredictable, uncontrollable (by everyone but a certain brown-eyed girl), and incredibly irrational. Case in point: Organized Crime 3×20 sees Elliot Stabler bringing his elderly mother to a crime scene, rather than calling one of his 84 kids. Or Jet, who recently looked after Bernie.
Another glaring possibility: his “friend” Olivia. Then again, nobody knows if they speak these days, and maybe with it being kinda late at night, it doesn’t make sense to ask her since she has Noah to worry about. (Forget about simply taking Bernie to Liv’s place, rather than asking her to come out. Really, really can’t have that!)
There’s not even a moment’s hesitation for Elliot to so much as consider other possibilities. That’s where the real befuddlement comes in. If it’s an “omg, this is an emergency, and I can’t find anybody” situation, that’s a very different issue than what occurs in this episode. Still wildly unsafe and inappropriate. But very different.
That’s not to say that Stabler’s huge error in judgement doesn’t make for good TV. Because it does. Sure, Elliot should know better than to bring his mom to a crime scene and all, but we also kinda get it. If you can make a (completely lazy) excuse to get Ellen Burstyn in more scenes, and get Bernie snooping around, making connections that show detective work runs in the family, why not? Right? Eh. Both right and wrong.
With the wrong part out of the way, though, it is noteworthy to say the Stabler family detective duo is a great comedy. You’ve got Stabler having to enlist a Uni to babysit her (and failing), so he’s also got to kind of babysit both of them at the same time…and then Mama, once again, shows she’s still got great sleuthing skills of her own. Burstyn and Meloni continue to be fantastic together, even when they’re not directly interacting — just him reacting to all the silly things she’s doing. So, if we’re looking at “Pareto Principle” on entertainment value alone, it’s a win.
Mama and her boy also have really touching moments together, both as he’s heart-eyeing her to death over making dinner and then, again, as he’s amused by her commentary on the current state of police work. Unfortunately, the moment where Elliot consoles Mama Stabler when she gets upset with herself for forgetting that Kathy’s dead kind of gets tainted by whatever that was at the end…but whatever, I guess.
While we’re nitpicking this, though: What’s the status of the search for Bernie’s new living situation? Are we erasing that touching mother-son discussion from the last episode so soon? Maybe we’ll have to fill in the blanks on this one, just like with whatever that was at the end and, you know, the great mystery saga of whether or not Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson have spoken in months.
Missing for most of the episode…but sneaks up on you
Most of Organized Crime season 3, from pretty much day one — after the MegaCrossoverEventerifficEvent —has been just a beautiful showcase of the Bell/Stabler partnership. Weirdly enough, “Pareto Principle” manages to, simultaneously, both abandon and enrich that. While Ayanna and Elliot do share a significant amount of screen time, most of it’s of the “we’re investigating a crime while being super hilarious” variety. There are a lot of hints of how strong their unspoken communication is and how “always so in sync” — please shoot me. I deserve it for this — they are, right down to the unison in pushing themselves up to look over the desk at the prison.
The great emotional depth, however, doesn’t quite get as much time to breathe as it normally would. Yes, there’s a line about what happened last time El went home — and it’s definitely a big deal that he even brings it up! And yes, Bell’s reaction is also, well, very Bell of her. She’s supportive, and she leans on her commanding officer position a bit to make Elliot stop avoiding home. But it just feels rushed in a way that these scenes, traditionally, have not been. A shorter opening scene, plus — dare I say, for as much as I loved it — maybe even cutting down on the interrogation a bit could’ve gone a long way.
To be fair, Meloni and Danielle Moné Truitt put in the work here, as always. That’s not at all in question. And there’s also just…a lot to balance so close to the end of the season. But, to just not find time to bother with fairness because we’re exhausted to death here, ambitious storytelling with a lot of beats only works if it, you know, works. Otherwise, it’s…kinda messy and just does a disservice to every single moving part.
Just saying, found family and the other kind of family don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A way to find balance exists. Promise.
More on Law & Order: Organized Crime 3×20
- Disclaimer: For as much as it seems like this episode tries to smush too much together and, ultimately doesn’t do right by much of anything as a result, imagine how much worse it would be if written by AI. I don’t care how much I dislike a story, writing is hard work (con confirm!). So, solidarity to all the WGA members who are striking this week. If you don’t support the strike, GTFO.
- Ok but what about the Jack custody battle?
- No but the way Meloni and Truitt have those twin “WTF” looks on their faces when they see the decapitated body on the couch. I can’t with them.
- (I love them.)
- “Readily available at any Home Depot.” “I try to avoid that place.” It’s a comedy, guys. And…so much for that stereotype.
- “Well, he obviously was in over his head.” That look from Bell says “one more dad joke, and Imma smack you.” Which, even though I love Stabler’s dad jokes, same.
- “Where’s your friend with the cushion?” “He’s probably making my latte.” Once again asking why Elliot in full bitch mode does it for me. (Also: Yesssss, coffee!)
- Can we please not waste Jet like this?
- “Regret and guilt are slow poisons.” I mean, if you’re Elliot Stabler, they’re basically what you subsist on.
- That look between Stabler and Bell through the glass. Icons, the both of them.
- …but can we make the team feel more team-like again? Don’t get me wrong: Love me some Meloni. I’ve even submitted the application to keep him when we purge the men. But…there’s no need for him to be a one man show like this.
- So, a BX9 member is supposed to be in prison but is clearly getting out to kill people. I get there’s a crossover coming up, but um. Now would be the time to warn Olivia. Just. Saying.
- “If I got out, I’d have to pay for these treatments out of pocket.” “Copays. Those are the real crimes.” Elliot Stabler gets me.
- Yes. Flossing is good for you. Dental hygiene, folks!
- Not sure what happened with the information exchange (?) in the prison and could’ve also done without Stabler pulling his gun on Jefferson or whatever. But hey! At least he didn’t actually shoot anyone. Good boy!
- …thank God for that lunge and that ass.
- Something about the way Bell and Stabler pose in Pendergast’s doorway…
- Bell’s reaction to the White Castle comment is also mine.
- The way this man makes heart-eyes at his mother…
- I am, once again, pointing out how hot it is to be that big and strong and alpha while also being the softest little boy for his mommy. What even is it with the multiple styles of “smitten with Mama” looks? Sorcery.
- “I’m glad that bitch got killed. I usually don’t speak ill of the dead, but…” If I relate this to a certain inexplicably-manifested character, will
the White Housea certain MSNBC host attack me for it?
- See also: “…the only thing I can say about her is she had the common decency to get murdered…”
- Chanukah lights??? We don’t…what. We light candles, y’all.
- “So, what part of ‘stay in the car’ did we miss?” Bernie Stabler does it better than Richard Castle. I said what I said.
- “It is too early in the morning, and I have not had my coffee yet.” BELL IS ME
- I’d love to be able to make a joking Scream reference about how it’s a bad idea to investigate a strange noise here. But uh. Not feeling particularly in the mood to do a humor with…that.
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Law & Order: Organized Crime airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.